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    Edward Carey: IMG 10 Best Books by Writer-Illustrators

    As a child who loved books I was fascinated by the illustrations just as much as the text. The same is true for me today, and I'm happy to be among... Continue »
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Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent


Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent Cover





Antarctica is like nowhere else on Earth. While there are other wild places or ones that seem extreme, this is the only continent in the world where people have never permanently lived. In the interior of the continent there is nothing to make a living from and#8211; no food, no shelter, no clothing, no fuel, no liquid water. Nothing but ice.

and#160;and#160;and#160;People have long suspected there may be some kind of land at the bottom of the world. The Greeks believed in Antarctica saying, with the peculiar logic of philosophy, that there must be a far southern continent to balance out the land in the north. Poets and novelists dreamed up new races of humans inhabiting tropical southern lands, or a hole at the South Pole that gave access to a hollow Earth beneath.

and#160;and#160;and#160;They were free to dream. The great sailing expeditions of discovery, which showed European powers the new worlds of the west and the ancient ones of the east, were always forced to turn back if they travelled too far south; they were blocked by the great ring of impenetrable pack ice that circles the southern seas.

and#160;and#160;and#160;The first sighting of the continentand#8217;s outermost islands in 1819 did little to stop the speculation of what might lie beyond, and the first serious attempts to penetrate its interior took place barely a hundred years ago, in the heroic age of exploration by Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and the rest.

and#160;and#160;and#160;Even now, although this land is bigger than Europe or the continental US, it has only forty-nine temporary bases, most of them on the relatively accessible coast.1 In summers there are perhaps three thousand scientists on the ice, plus another 30,000 tourists who come in on short visits, usually by ship to the western Peninsula. In winters, there can be just a thousand people on the entire continent.

and#160;and#160;and#160;The scale of the place is hard to grasp. You see a mountain or an island that seems a few hoursand#8217; walk away and decide to wander over and explore; five days later youand#8217;re still walking. The early explorers did this a lot. The problem is not just the size of the features and#8211; glaciers that make Alaska look small, mountains that dwarf the Alps and#8211; but also the absence of anything against which to judge them. There are no trees, or indeed plants of any kind; no land animals; nothing but glaciers, snowfields and sepia-toned rocks.

and#160;and#160;and#160;In spite of its size, Antarctica officially belongs to nobody. An international treaty, signed now by the forty-nine countries with a declared interest, forbids commercial exploitation and dedicates the entire place to and#8216;peace and scienceand#8217;. Thus, the continent is a science playground. Dozens of countries have gained themselves a placeholder for any future exploitation by building bases whose presence is justified by the noble pursuit of science. But whatever the true reasons that governments pump money into Antarctic science, the results extend far beyond the continent itself. Discoveries made there have dramatically changed the way we see our world.

and#160;and#160;and#160;For these reasons and many more I have been fascinated by Antarctica for more than two decades. I have visited five times, mainly as a guest of the huge American programme, run by the US Governmentand#8217;s National Science Foundation, through whom I spent several stints at the South Pole, stayed for four months at McMurdo and#8211; the main American base on the coast and the unofficial capital of Antarctica and#8211; and visited many of the US field camps scattered around the continent. Iand#8217;ve also been a guest of the Italian, French, British and New Zealand governments. Iand#8217;ve sailed to Antarctica at various times on a tourist ship, a British Royal Navy icebreaker and a science research vessel. Iand#8217;ve driven on the ice in tractors, snow dozers, skidoos and strange tracked vehicles with triangular wheels, and flown over it in helicopters, Hercules transport planes and small ski-equipped Twin Otters.

and#160;and#160;and#160;And in all these experiences I have encountered some astonishing stories. Antarctica has much, much more than just ice and penguins. It is like walking on Mars; it is a unique window into space; it has valleys that time has forgotten; mysterious hidden lakes; under-ice waterfalls that flow uphill; and archives of our planetand#8217;s history that are unrivalled anywhere else on Earth. It is also a place of romance, adventure, humour and terrible cost. Since there is no prior culture or indigenous population, modern humans can write themselves afresh. For the people who go there, Antarctica is a carte blanche.

and#160;and#160;and#160;Even its apparent barrenness is a large part of its power. People are drawn to Antarctica precisely because so much has been stripped away. The support staff I met there told me that they had come not to find themselves so much as to lose the outside world. The continent lacks most of the normal ways that we interact in human societies. There is no need for money; everyone wears the same clothes and has the same kind of lodging and#8211; whether a tent, a hut, a dorm room or, in the bigger bases, an ensuite room that wouldnand#8217;t be out of place in a Travelodge; you eat the same food as everyone else; you forget about the existence of mobile phones, bank accounts, driving licences, keys, even children. (Almost none of the bases will allow anyone under the age of eighteen.) And with this simplicity of life comes a clarity thatand#8217;s intoxicating.

and#160;and#160;and#160;That doesnand#8217;t just apply to your time on the ice. A sojourn in Antarctica brings with it a new way of seeing back in the real world. Christchurch, in New Zealand, is the main point of return for the American mega-base, McMurdo. The locals are used to the oddities of Antarcticans arriving after long months on the ice. Nobody is surprised if, while checking into your hotel, you ask for a glass of fresh milk along with your room key (there are no cows on the continent), or if you wander out of a restaurant forgetting to pay. And in the botanical gardens at the end of the season you can often find people sitting for hours, staring in wonder, as if they were seeing flowers for the first time.

and#160;and#160;and#160;With this book I have attempted to weave together all the different aspects of Antarctica in a way that has never been done before: what it feels like to be there; why people of all kinds are drawn to it; Antarctica as place of science, political football, holder of secrets about the Earthand#8217;s past, and ice crystal ball that will ultimately predict all of our futures. It is only when you see all those different aspects and how they interconnect that you can begin to understand this extraordinary place.

and#160;and#160;and#160;I have tried, in short, to write a natural history of the only continent on Earth that has virtually no human history.

and#160;and#160;and#160;Antarctica is made up of two giant ice sheets. Part One of the book is based around coastal stations on the East Antarctic ice sheet, the larger of the two. This is home to a bleakly beautiful frozen lake district, which is so like the Red Planet that it has been dubbed and#8216;Mars on Earthand#8217;. Itand#8217;s also here that you can meet the and#8216;aliensand#8217; of Antarctica, creatures that live on the coast there year round and have been forced into bizarre adaptations to cope with the extremes. There are fish with antifreeze in their blood, seals that live out the winter swimming non-stop beneath the sea ice, snow petrels that look angelic on the wing but are spitting maniacs close up, and penguins that put themselves through extremes of starvation and privation to rear each new generation.

and#160;and#160;and#160;For Part Two we move to the high plateau in the interior of the eastern ice sheet. This is where the astronomy happens, giant telescopes high on the summit of the ice sheet that see through windows in the cold, dry sky to parts of the Universe that other telescopes canand#8217;t reach. This is also where we see how humans pass winters trapped on their bases, as isolated as if they were on a space station.

and#160;and#160;and#160;The fulcrum of the book comes as I describe another treasure found in the east: the extraordinary archive of the Earthand#8217;s climate history, buried as bubbles of ancient air under three kilometres of ice. While scientists working on the rest of the world were quibbling, Antarctica told us beyond any doubt that our burning of oil, coal and gas has significantly changed our atmosphere, taking it into unnatural and potentially very dangerous territory.

and#160;and#160;and#160;Part Three then focuses on the west of the continent: the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the peninsula tail pointing to South America. The Peninsula is warming up more rapidly than almost anywhere else on Earth. And the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is the vulnerable one, based on slippery wet rocks that could send it sliding into the sea. Though it is the smaller of the two ice sheets it still contains enough ice to raise sea levels around the world by three and a half metres.2 If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melted completely, or even in part, Antarctica would no longer be a remote curiosity. Its ice would fill the oceans, rearing up to flood London, Florida, Shanghai and the hundreds of millions of people who make their livings in places that now seem perilously close to the sea.

and#160;and#160;and#160;The underlying theme of the book is the classic and#8216;heroand#8217; story, in which the narrator travels to the end of the Earth, to the strangest, most distant lands, only to find a mirror, the girl next door, the key to life back home. But there is also a deeper message, for which Antarctica is the living metaphor. The most experienced Antarcticans talk not about conquering the continent but about surrendering to it. No matter how powerful you believe yourself to be and#8211; how good your technology, how rich your invention and#8211; Antarctica is always bigger. And if we humans look honestly into this ice mirror, and see how small we are, we may learn a humility that is the first step towards wisdom.

Product Details

Walker, Gabrielle
Houghton Mifflin
Hertsgaard, Mark
King, David
Earth Sciences
Environmental Science
climate change;global warming;"generation hot";earth;journalist;father;nonfictio
science;Antarctica;south pole;desolate;exploration;adventure;ice shelves;climate
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
7 maps
9 x 6 in

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Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$27.00 In Stock
Product details 416 pages Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) - English 9780151015207 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Science writer Walker (Snowball Earth) offers a cross-disciplinary tour of Antarctica — its geology, biology, climate, and history — along with an illuminating picture of the lives of the scientists who temporarily live on the forbidding continent. Writing in a fluid style, Walker surveys the fascinating sea life in the frigid waters, such as spiders one thousand times bigger than their land-bound cousins, and fish that literally have antifreeze in their veins. In addition to the biologists, Antarctica's scientific community includes meteor-hunting geologists, climatologists studying the ancient ice to trace the oscillations in Earth's climate, and astronomers who brave the winter to benefit from the clarity of the Antarctic skies. A highlight is Walker's chronicle of the rhythms of an Antarctic winter and the coping strategies the winter crews employ to survive the harsh otherworldly environment. For example, the tone for the new winter is set when the crew sits down to watch the science-fiction classic The Thing, set at the South Pole, and in the dead of winter the brave attempt to join the 300 Club, which requires that they sit in a sauna until the temperature is 200F and then run, naked no less, into the -100F air, however briefly. This all-in-one survey successfully captures the frozen continent. 2 maps. Agent: Michael Carlisle, Inkwell Management." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by ,
Journeying to the most alien place on the planet, science writer Gabrielle Walkerand#160;presents aand#160;biography of Antarctica, weaving its history of explorationand#160;with the science currently being conducted there. Walker gives usand#160;glimpses at the marvelous creatures clinging to life above and below the ice, the international community drawn to an existence of extremes, the desolate stretches of surface that yield surprising information about life beyond our planet, and the crumbling ice shelves acting as global climate bellwethers.
"Synopsis" by ,
On a quest to protect the next generation from mounting climate change, renowned journalist Mark Hertsgaard offers a deeply reported blueprint on how to navigate this unavoidable new era.
"Synopsis" by ,
We spend our lives surrounded by air, hardly even noticing it. Itand#8217;s the most miraculous substance on earth, yet responsible for our food, our weather, our water, and our ability to hear. In fact, we live at the bottom of an ocean of air. In this exuberant book, gifted science writer Gabrielle Walker peels back the layers of our atmosphere with the stories of the people who uncovered its secrets:and#149; A flamboyant Renaissance Italian discovers how heavy our air really is: The air filling Carnegie Hall, for example, weighs seventy thousand pounds.and#149; A one-eyed barnstorming pilot finds a set of winds that constantly blow five miles above our heads.and#149; An impoverished American farmer figures out why hurricanes move in a circle by carving equations with his pitchfork on a barn door.and#149; A well-meaning inventor nearly destroys the ozone layer.and#149; A reclusive mathematical genius predicts, thirty years before heand#8217;s proved right, that the sky contains a layer of floating metal fed by the glowing tails of shooting stars.
"Synopsis" by ,

Last year, awareness about global warming reached a tipping point. Now one of the most dynamic writers and one of the most respected scientists in the field of climate change offer the first concise guide to both the problems and the solutions. Guiding us past a blizzard of information and misinformation, Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King explain the science of warming, the most cutting-edge technological solutions from small to large, and the national and international politics that will affect our efforts.

While there have been many other books about the problem of global warming, none has addressed what we can and should do about it so clearly and persuasively, with no spin, no agenda, and no exaggeration. Neither Walker nor King is an activist or politician, and theirs is not a generic green call to arms. Instead they propose specific ideas to fix a very specific problem. Most important, they offer hope: This is a serious issue, perhaps the most serious that humanity has ever faced. But we can still do something about it. And theyandrsquo;ll show us how.

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